Intel Helps Give Voice to People with MND

Intel joins Dell Technologies, Rolls-Royce and the Motor Neurone Disease Association to launch digital voice banking book.

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What’s New: Intel, Dell Technologies, Rolls-Royce and the Motor Neurone Disease Association are announcing I Will Always Be Me, a digital storybook created using voice banking technology that drives positive change for people with motor neurone disease (MND), also known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

“About 80% of people living with MND will lose their voice, so voice banking technology will help them preserve that part of themselves in a unique way. It’s a beautiful example of how technology can make a real impact in people’s lives.”

–Lama Nachman, Intel Fellow and director of Human and AI Systems Research Lab

What It Is: I Will Always Be Me is an interactive website created for people living with MND and their loved ones. Anyone can visit to record their voice by reading a 1,000-word story aloud in a process that takes about 20 minutes. The book contains critical words and phrases needed to complete the voice banking process. The processed vocals are turned into a digital voice that individuals living with MND can use on any assistive speech device, allowing an individual to communicate with a voice that is identifiably their own. Visitors to the website can also listen to stories about the complexity and challenges of living with MND as told through the voices of people living with MND.

Why It’s Needed: At some point in time, one of every 300 people will be diagnosed with MND, according to the MND Association. It’s a rare, crippling condition that progressively robs people of the ability to move, eat, drink and, eventually, speak. (Renowned theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, who passed away in 2018, had ALS.) While scientists haven’t discovered a cure yet, technology can help those living with the disease.

About Intel’s Role: Intel teams provided expertise across multiple areas, including shaping the site’s user experience and accessibility. Intel-based servers also provide the computing power required to analyze, process and digitize a voice.

Prior to this project, the process of recording a voice would usually take place in a clinical setting, which can be physically difficult for individuals with MND to get to and is an emotionally solitary experience. This digital storybook allows them to record their voice from any device at home, surrounded by family.

“What I think is brilliant about this project is that you're asking people to do something that's very natural to them,” Nachman said. “True accessibility is about recognizing the human experience and building around it.”

The project also underscores Intel’s multiyear strategy to embed accessible computing experiences across Intel’s product portfolio, integrate people with disabilities into the design process and deliver technologies that empower everyone.

“Together with our partners, we are bringing voice banking and digitization technology from a niche use case to a mainstream audience, while discovering innovation pathways for how technology can address more accessibility challenges,” said Darryl Adams, director of accessibility at Intel.

Adams, who has a degenerative eye condition that gradually impaired his vision and is deaf in one ear from a surgical accident during college, added that the democratization of tech and the rapidly expanding adoption of AI-based workloads in the cloud and on client machines are unlocking new ways to apply technology in solving disability-related challenges.

About Dell Technologies’ Role: In 2020, Dell Technologies reached out to Intel for help in creating I Will Always Be Me. Dell Technologies is donating Intel-powered laptops to the MND Association, which will allow more people the opportunity to record their voices.

“Technology gets more powerful, more intuitive and smarter every day, and I’m optimistic about what we'll be able to do in the future — not only for individuals with MND but for the world at large,” said Liz Matthews, senior vice president of Global Brand, Dell Technologies.

About Rolls-Royce's Role: For this pioneering aerospace and power systems company, MND is deeply personal. Stuart Moss, head of IT innovation at Rolls-Royce, lost his father to MND on Christmas Day eight years ago. When asked to lead a Rolls-Royce corporate social responsibility activity, Moss suggested an ambitious experiment that extended outside of the company: In partnership with the MND Association, Rolls-Royce founded the NextGen Think Tank in 2019. Dell Technologies and Intel were the first to join, followed by other big tech firms. This pioneering activity provides an environment where companies unite through the power of technology to help people living with MND.

About Motor Neurone Disease Association’s Role: The MND Association improves access to care, research and campaigning for those affected by motor neurone disease in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The association’s guidance, expertise and support were instrumental in creating and implementing I Will Always Be Me.